The Price of Perspective Taking: Child Depressive Symptoms Interact With Parental Empathy to Predict Immune Functioning in Parents

Erika Manczak, Devika Basu, Edith Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Parental empathy is generally held as a positive characteristic; however, might there be contexts in which parental empathy is actually harmful? The present study examined whether adolescents’ depressive symptoms might have immunologic costs for more empathic parents. A total of 143 parents and their children completed self-report measures of empathy and depressive symptoms, respectively. One year later, production of four proinflammatory cytokines in parents’ blood was measured in response to in vitro exposure to a bacterial product. Significant interactions across all inflammatory markers emerged, such that parents who were higher in empathy showed greater inflammatory cytokine production if their children also reported high levels of depressive symptoms, but lower cytokine production if their children reported low levels of symptoms. Less empathic parents showed the opposite pattern. These results provide support for the hypothesis that parents high in empathy may be especially sensitive physiologically to their children’s psychopathologic symptoms.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)485-492
Number of pages8
JournalClinical Psychological Science
Volume4
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2016

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